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By US State Department – Office of International Religious Freedom –


The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of “divine religions” [i.e., the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism] is a right regulated by law.” The constitution states citizens “are equal before the law” and criminalizes discrimination and “incitement to hatred” based upon religion. The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation but stipulates the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders. The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship. “Disdaining and disrespecting” the three Abrahamic religions and supporting “extremist” ideologies are crimes.

On January 16, the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, rejected an appeal by Souad Thabet, a 74-year-old Christian woman, to overturn the acquittals of three Muslim men in Minya Governorate who attacked and stripped her in 2016 following accusations of a romantic relationship between Thabet’s son and a Muslim woman. More than a year after his 2022 release, Copt and human rights activist Ramy Kamel Saied Salib remained under a travel ban. Authorities originally arrested Kamel in 2019 following his application for a Swiss visa to speak at a UN forum in Geneva on minority rights and charged him with joining a banned group and spreading false news. In February, a misdemeanor court in Alexandria sentenced TikTok content creator Osama Sharaf El-Din to three years in prison for insulting Christianity.

In February, the University of Sinai announced its decision to close an investigation into the conduct of a female student accused of “contempt of religion” based on the screenshot of a comment defaming Islam that appeared on the student’s social media account. In March, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned a de facto travel ban against Quranist activist Reda Abdel Rahman. According to the statement, Abdel Rahman – who was freed after over 18 months of pretrial detention in 2022 – was prevented from departing the country to visit Saudi Arabia on March 10, despite the lack of any judicial decision preventing his travel. In July, the Court of Cassation upheld a 2019 death sentence against police officer Rabei Mustafa Khalifa, convicted of murder in the killing of two Copts in the city of Minya in 2018. In July, a criminal court renewed the detention of Nour Fayez Ibrahim for a 45-day period pending investigations into a case against him before the Supreme State Security. Authorities ultimately charged Ibrahim with “leading a terrorist group” and “showing disrespect to Abrahamic religions.” In October, the Cairo Criminal Court renewed the detention of Yemeni refugee Abdel-Baqi Saeed Abdo Ali for 45 days on charges of “joining a terrorist group and contempt for Islam,” following his conversion from Islam to Christianity, exceeding the 18-month maximum period of pretrial detention permitted by law.

In October, the Supreme Committee for Reconciliation at al-Azhar, in cooperation with Qena Governorate, announced the conclusion of a reconciliation session that ended a violent eight-year feud between families in the village of Karnak that resulted in 10 deaths. On July 20, the day after he was sentenced by a court to three years in prison for “spreading false news,” researcher Patrick Zaki was pardoned and released under the authority of President Abdel Fattah Sisi more than three years after his 2020 arrest following a 2019 article he wrote about discrimination Copts faced in the country. In March, al-Azhar issued a fatwa stating that a four-year-old child named Shenouda raised by Coptic Christian parents after being abandoned by his birth parents could be considered Christian; the child subsequently was returned from government care to his adoptive Coptic parents. During the year, civil society groups and Coptic organizations reported at least eight cases of alleged abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women and girls. In several of these cases involving minors, security services helped locate and return the girls to their families. Local and international press reported in September the continued demolition of Islamic mausoleums in Cairo’s “City of the Dead” cemetery quarter to make room for multilane highway expansion projects.

In May, Muhammad Mukhtar Abu Zaid, Deputy General of the Sheikhdom of the Sufi Orders in Desouk, Kafr El-Sheikh Governorate, announced that no celebrations would take place to commemorate the birth of Sufi figure Ibrahim al-Desouki – one of the largest such gatherings in the country – in compliance with the decision to cancel mass religious gatherings following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. In July, the State Council issued a ruling prohibiting civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from practicing “religious preaching and guidance,” with fines ranging from 100,000 Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($3,200) to one million EGP ($32,400) for violating the ruling. The Ministry of Awqaf organized an international conference in September, which, according to Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, addressed the challenge of “liberating mosques from the control of extremist groups.” On January 21, local media reported that President Sisi issued directives to plan for expanded mosque construction to spread “true religion nationwide” while ensuring proper selection of mosque sites and “rightsizing” mosque capacity based on local populations. In March, President Sisi inaugurated the Islamic Cultural Center in the New Administrative Capital, a component of the Mosque of Egypt, the world’s second-largest mosque with space for 107,000 worshippers. In August, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly presided over the reinauguration of Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo, the country’s oldest synagogue. Leaders of Cairo’s Jewish community later protested that organizers did not invite any Jews to the ceremony and that authorities reinaugurated the building without obtaining the community’s advance consent. In September, the government inaugurated a newly restored Ottoman-era mosque, the city’s earliest Ottoman mosque, within Cairo’s historic citadel. According to Shia community sources and religious freedom experts, Shia Muslims remained unable to establish public places of worship. According to media reports, the Ministry of Education banned students from wearing head coverings that conceal their faces, including the niqab, for the 2023-24 school year.

Clashes occurred during the year between Muslim and Coptic communities. In September, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Abu Qurqas reported Muslim villagers attacked a Coptic private residence under the mistaken belief that the Coptic community was building an unregistered church. In January, officials of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Dranga, Assiut Governorate, restored an icon of the Virgin Mary and Holy Family after unknown persons covered the faces of the depicted figures using black spray paint. In May, following a widely publicized controversy over the portrayal of Cleopatra in a Netflix docudrama by a British actor of African descent, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported comments from journalist Refa’at Rashad, who blamed Jews “who control the world media and culture” for “historical distortion” in portraying Cleopatra as “African when she was in fact Macedonian and therefore ‘light-skinned with Hellenic features.’” In May, social media users reacted angrily to a video in which a pharmacist revealed her veiled friend was prevented from entering a restaurant in the upscale Fifth Settlement District of Cairo. On June 19, a Christian student at Zagazig University received death threats from social media users after he allegedly made Facebook posts denigrating Islam in response to comments insulting Christianity; the student said his account had been hacked and that the offending posts were not his. An October report from the Andalus Center for Tolerance and Antiviolence found significant expansion in “incitement to hatred” and “disparagement of other faiths” during the previous year. The report noted that hate speech targeting Shias was highest on Facebook, where anti-Shia posts made up over 79 percent of hate speech posts analyzed by the Center, compared X (formerly Twitter), where the highest proportion of religious hate speech, more than 45 percent, targeted Jews.

The Chargé d’Affaires, other embassy officials, and visiting U.S. government representatives regularly raised religious freedom concerns with senior government officials. On May 7, embassy representatives visited Minya Governorate, whose population is approximately 50 percent Christian – the highest proportion of any governorate – for meetings with the deputy governor and Coptic bishop of the governorate. In June, the First Lady met with the president of al-Azhar University, Dr. Salama Daoud, and youth who had participated in a U.S. embassy exchange program to discuss shared experiences and values regarding religious freedom. Throughout the year, embassy representatives met with senior officials in the offices of Grand Imam of al-Azhar al-Tayyeb; Dar al-Iftaa; Coptic Pope Tawadros; Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros; bishops and senior clergy of Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches; members of the Jewish community, and representatives of unrecognized minorities, including Shia Muslims, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheists, and secularists. The inability of students to opt out of Islamic or Christian religious instruction in public schools and government efforts to protect and restore Islamic, Christian, and Jewish religious sites in Cairo and Upper Egypt were among issues discussed. On January 30, the embassy co-organized an observance of International Holocaust Memorial Day. Speakers included a U.S.-based Holocaust survivor and Dr. Nasser Kotb, the nephew of the first Arab recognized by Israel as “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts to save Jews in Berlin during World War II. On July 19, the Department of State posted a statement on X that the U.S. government welcomed “Egypt’s pardons of human rights defenders Patrick Zaki and [Zaki’s attorney] Mohamed El-Baqer, both unjustly detained for exercising fundamental freedoms.”

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